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What it looks like when an urban public school teacher is fired
by Elizabeth Green
Something has happened to the charter school teacher who blogs at Mildly Melancholy that almost never happens at traditional public schools: She has been forced to resign.
This teacher has been writing about her tough school year since September (without revealing the school’s name). At a non-charter school, her misery would probably have proceeded apace until June, mainly unchanged. If tensions with the administration escalated, she might have sought help from the union. But as it happened, Mildly Melancholy — who began teaching in September 2004 — got miserable and then was surprised to find she got fired. She plans to quit teaching altogether.
I knew something bad was coming, but I didn’t want to think it was real, and I didn’t think it would happen so soon. This week has been really awful in my classroom (and across the entire grade, actually). I haven’t been a happy person at this job, and I haven’t been a very effective teacher. So it’s actually kind of a big relief.
I was pretty shaken by how fast it all happened; within an hour I finished teaching my last class, signed the letter, surrendered my laptop, and was packing up my belongings.
Here you can read her description of her first, much more optimistic days teaching, at a middle school in Queens.
Filed under: Newsroom
Posted at 9:05 am
Tags: Charter Schools, Teachers, tenure
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Schooldays January 12th, 2009 10:48 am
I found myself reading the descriptions of “her first, much more optimistic days teaching…” and was struck by the “0 comments” posting after posting after posting. One doesn’t have to read the posts carefully to see she is having some problems (3 minutes of teaching in a 45 minute class) yet “0 comments”.
Now that she has been fired, she gets comments. How ironic and sad. And unhelpful.
MildlyMelancholy January 12th, 2009 11:47 am
thanks for the links, Elizabeth. no wonder my archives have been getting so many hits! :)Schooldays, I can’t tell if you’re saying shame on me for being a bad teacher back then, or shame on readers for not trying to help? nobody was reading it back in those days! there weren’t a lot of teacher blogs five years ago; the community has really built up since then. though i’ve never claimed to be an Amazing Super Teacher, my second year (and on) was millions of miles better than my first, which is quite common among teachers. my first year was awful–one of the reasons this year felt so horrible was that it felt just like my first year, which I thought was ancient history–and i don’t try to claim otherwise. the three years after that though, my classroom was, for the most part, a pretty good place to be (for me and the students). when this school told me i had to completely change my teaching style and teacher personality (which had allowed me to become a good teacher with great management), that should have been a clue.
peter January 12th, 2009 12:05 pm
Teaching is an extremely isolating job … unfortunately in too many schools teachers complain to each other but rarely interact on a professional basis … observe a master teacher, are effectively coached by school leadership … I’ve always believed that the principal must be a master teacher, and, teach a class that is open to all staff … schools should provide teachers with constant feedback on teacher progress. That being said teaching is not for everyone … for some the learning curve is sharp, for others slower, and for some filled w/ peaks and valleys.
Leaving on your own is one thing … being fired is another … you will probably feel guilty, sad about your kids … walk along a winter beach, go to the gym … decompress, and move on … and keep writing!
Schooldays January 12th, 2009 12:51 pm
Of course I don’t think Mildly Melancholy is a bad teacher. I found it sad that few would bother to post comments. As for “nobody reading it back in those days”, have you checked blog comments recently? Blog comments on this site?
With all the best wishes for a fine future. I’m sure you will have one.
Chaz January 12th, 2009 3:39 pm
It is a pity that MM did not get due process rights. However, NYC public school teachers can and do get fired. The difference is that for tenured teachers, the DOE must prove their case in front of an independent arbitrator. It is one thing to accuse a teacher of misconduct or incometence, its another thing to prove it.
Many an innocent teacher would be fired just because an insecure or vindictive Principal wants the teacher gone due to ageism, race, religion, or advocacy.
By the way these Charter Schools are known for their high teacher turnover. That is their dirty little secret that fails to reach the media.
Smith January 12th, 2009 9:59 pm
MM, Why not try teaching in a regular public school, with a union. Having a few basic rights and a little more power on the job could make a big difference. I would also suggest trying high school. If you survived middle school this long, you’d probably be a good high school teacher, at least in terms of classroom management.
Socrates January 13th, 2009 9:50 pm
Interesting that she was fired from a school that uses “work hard, be nice,” has extended day and summer school, and exists in Brooklyn, the week before KIPP AMP unionizes. Connection?
I really hope they didn’t unionize because of this teacher. All my sympathies go out to her, but it doesn’t sound like she was doing too great a job.
Jonathan January 14th, 2009 2:43 pm
“almost never happens at traditional public schools” ….. that’s really just not correct …..
Forced resignations occur frequently in the affluent suburbs. Typically, a new teacher will be told a year before the tenure decision that it is already clear that they will not be granted tenure, and is asked to find work elsewhere. Teachers jump at the chance to transfer rather than be fired. This “churns” the workforce, leaving a core of senior teachers at a school, with a pool of first, second, and third year teachers bouncing from district to district.
….. in New York City, the same game gets played with probationers ….. threatened with a U unless the transfer …. the transfer is equivalent to getting fired …. less frequent, but still common, probationers are denied tenure…. and discontinued…. this happened recently at Bronx Science…. (the teacher ended up in Westchester, where I hope she doesn’t get “churned”)
Tillie January 14th, 2009 6:43 pm
Some people become lawyers, open restaurants, work in a corporate environment, whatever for a few years and they just aren’t that great at what they do, and they get fired and move on to other things. Why are people so worried when it happens to a teacher? I DON’T think MM should go work in a public school–why?? why not try something that she might be better at, something that would make her happier? And sure, some teachers get hassled by principals who are ageist, racist, whatever. But WAY more teachers are mediocre (or worse) and allowed to stay in the system because firing them is too cumbersome to principals who are already overwhelmed by the magnitude of their jobs. I think MM’s situation seems to be in the best interest of her and her students.
Schooldays January 15th, 2009 3:48 am
How interesting that some assume MM was a “bad” teacher. The fact that she was asked to change her teaching style may reinforce that assumption.
But is the teacher responsible for student learning? It could be that students are responsible for their own learning. If students have no self motivation nor self reliance then they are the ones who are mediocre (or worse).
Teachers should not have to be “overwhelmed by the magnitude of their jobs” when many parents (and their student children) seem to be underwhelmed by the magnitude of theirs.
Tillie January 18th, 2009 7:46 pm
I didn’t assume MM was bad–she said herself that she wasn’t very effective. I believe her–why would she lie about it? and I think teachers HAVE to be responsible for student learning. It is their job to teach students–if the students don’t learn (for whatever reason), then they’re not doing a great job and they should try something else.
Schooldays, you say that “teachers should not have to be ‘overwhelmed by the magnitude of their jobs’ when many parents (and their student children) seem to be underwhelmed by the magnitude of theirs.” I’m troubled by this–I’m not sure what you mean. Would you say doctors shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of their jobs if their patients are underwhelmed by the magnitude of theirs? Would you say that more students with more inspired parents deserve more inspired teachers? I am not sure I’m reading you right on that–just trying to make sense of it.
Definitely there are students in our city schools who are unmotivated and irresponsible. I’ve seen those students really push themselves when they are in the presence of a master teacher. I think they–like all students–deserve to be in the presence of master teachers regularly.
(This story was found at http://gothamschools.org/)